This summer will be different for kids and families across our region, as we continue the fight against COVID-19. Some camps may not be open this year, vacations might get rescheduled and families are still adjusting to social distancing guidelines. Child Life Specialist Caitlin Leary, MS, CCLS, CEIM, CPST, answered some frequently asked questions about how to stay safe and healthy this summer.

When school ends, how can parents keep kids on a schedule?

Routines help children feel in control because their schedules are predictable, and while detailed routines are beneficial during the school year, parents should allow some flexibility during this summer. Families are encouraged to maintain consistent bedtimes, daily learning or quiet time, and free play time.

What are some safe activities kids can do during the summer months?

Activities that children can do independently during the summer time include kicking a soccer ball, shooting hoops, making hopscotch with sidewalk chalk and jumping rope. Activities that the family can engage in together include bike riding, walking in a local park, making outdoor scavenger hunts and running through a sprinkler to cool off.

How can families stay active and engaged if camps or other summer activities are canceled?

Fortunately, the summer months often provide plenty of opportunities to get outside and stay active. Family walks, bike rides, scavenger hunts or even yard work are great ways to not only exercise, but bond as a family. It will certainly be disappointing if camps and group activities are cancelled this summer, and it is important for parents to acknowledge and affirm those feelings. The increase in free time can be used to try new activities and find new interests. For example, asking your child if they would like to help plant some seeds or flowers may spark new curiosity. 

If summer activities are canceled, how can parents help ease disappointment in their kids?

One of the ways parents can ease disappointment is by preparing their kids ahead of time. If children know about the possibility, they won’t be as surprised if it happens. After preparing the child, it can also help to brainstorm together and create a list of backup activities that they are interested in that conform to social distancing rules. Fortunately, many organizations are providing free or low cost online summer camp options so that kids can continue to explore their interests. Some of these include:

  • Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami: Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA) offers free summer Virtual Art Camps for ages 6 through 9 and 10 through 13.
  • United States Tennis Association Virtual Camp: The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has an entire program for kids on its Net Generation platform, including live workouts, math problems and coloring pages to keep them active mentally and physically. They are also doing Facebook Live workouts every Friday at 1 p.m. for kids around the country.
  • SeriousFun Children’s Network: The SeriousFun Children’s Network, the global network of camps and programs serving seriously ill campers and their families, and founded by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, have created innovative new ways provide the same, life-changing camp experience virtually — and as always, free of charge.
  • KiDS NEED MoRE: KiDS NEED MoRE is a Long Island, N.Y.-based non-profit organization for families battling cancer and other life threatening illnesses. KiDS NEED MoRE is offering Virtual Camp now and in the summer at no cost for children dealing with illnesses or for those affected by COVID-19. Kids are invited to video chat with superheroes and Disney princesses, enjoy cooking classes and more.
  • Best Buy’s Geek Squad Academy: Best Buy’s Geek Squad Academy, a camp program designed to get youth excited about STEM education, has launched a new, virtual set of tools for kids ages 9-18 eager to develop their tech skills, including classes for binary numbers systems, Godot game engines, mobile photography, and website creation. The virtual instruction is set up so kids can teach themselves with downloadable PDF lesson plans, taking some of the pressure off of many parents who are suddenly finding themselves in the “teacher’s seat” at home.
  • Jam With Jamie: Jam With Jamie offers free daily music classes on Facebook Live and their website. Founder Jamie Kolnick also offers families private Zooms to celebrate a birthdays and other milestones. While the classes are free, Jamie asks that participants consider donating so that she can continue to pay her musicians and donate to Baby2Baby.
  • Camp Wonderopolis Camp: Wonderopolis is free for kids 7 and up through the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). Their programs explore topics including STEM, music, meteorology, food and technology with videos, outdoor activities, lessons and reading suggestions.

What can parents do if their child is feeling lonely and isolated with social distancing?

Peer relationships are important for children’s development and self-esteem. Although this summer we may need to practice social distancing, that doesn’t mean we have to be isolated. Apps like Zoom and Marco Polo make it possible for kids to have some virtual hang out time either one on one or in groups. Parents can set up weekly group play dates or game nights easily and kids will feel connected and have something to look forward to. Traditional methods of communication, such as letter writing, can also be beneficial. After all, who doesn’t love getting mail?

After spending so much time outside the classroom, how can parents help motivate kids to stay on top of their summer school assignments?

Keeping kids engaged in academics can be difficult during the summer months, and this summer will undoubtedly be even more challenging. If your child has specific assignments, it may be helpful to decide on a time of day that the child will dedicate to their study. If your child doesn’t have any assigned work, ask them to give you three topics they would like to learn about over the summer together. By giving the child a sense of control over their own learning, you will keep them engaged and motivated. For children who may need some additional academic structure over the summer, various programs offer guided learning experience for all ages. A few of these programs include:

  • Head of the class Scholastic launched a Learn at Home website with daily lessons that combine videos, stories and prompts for drawing and writing activities. Grade levels include pre-K and kindergarten, grades 1 and 2, grades 3 to 5, and grades 6 and up.
  • Khan Academy is offering online lessons, exercises and quizzes, and has daily schedules for organizing at-home learning for students ages 4 to 18 years. On weekdays, Khan Academy is also offering daily livestreams on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to help parents and educators best utilize the website's tools and resources.

How can parents get kids ready for another school year when there are still a lot of unknowns ahead?

Parents should be open and honest with children about schools reopening in the fall and provide an opportunity for their child to ask questions. Although we do not know exactly what school will be like, we can prepare kids by explaining that we can expect possible changes in daily routines and expect social distancing. Reminding them that their teachers and school staff have spent a lot of time thinking about how to make school safe for them may help ease anxiety. Additionally, talking to kids about the things that won’t change may provide a sense of normalcy and control for children, such as where they will be dropped off and picked up, what they can eat for lunch, and who they will see around school. Most importantly, parents should be honest that they may not have all of the answers, but can assure their kids that they will be cared for and safe no matter what situation arises. 

What other tips would you recommend for families this summer?

Unstructured, self-directed, free play is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we can give children. Providing time for children to play, without being directed by an adult, allows them to use their imaginations, make their own rules, and develop self-regulation. Play reduces stress and helps children grow emotionally. It provides opportunities for self-expression and an outlet for anxiety.